Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Damsel of Dramaturgy: Kate Stephenson @ Edfringe 2015

By Kate Stephenson

‘How is it that fairytale characters just randomly start speaking in rhyme? Do they make it up as they go along or are they prepared poems that they’ve been thinking about for ages and just looking for an opportunity to use?’

Jeremy, Rose and Alex's parents are going to a ball and they leave the children in the charge of a babysitter. When she reads them The Princess and the Pea, Rose takes exception to the story and its inconsistencies. They consequently set out to retell famous fairytales including Hansel and Gretel and Sleeping Beauty in their own way, with help from the audience and whatever items are to hand. An ideal show for 5-7year olds, which is fun, funny and just a little bit silly.

Venue: C Venues, C Nova (Venue 145) Dates: Performances: 5th-31st (excluding 18th) August

Time: 11.30am (50mins)

Tickets: £350-£9.50 

The Fringe
What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?Kate Stephenson: This concept has been brewing for a couple of years and probably originates in my frustration as a child with two things in fairytales. One that there was a lack of competent heroines, and two that so much of them didn't make any logical sense - why didn't the gingerbread house crumble in the rain, how on earth does a child ride on a duck and doesn't being asleep for 100 years mean that eveything, both technological and social, has moved on in the world outside, resulting in a need for some serious readjustment upon waking up?

The idea has come to fruition recently as my friends have started to sprog liberally and I've learnt that it is essentially impossible to buy congratulations cards, or baby clothes and toys that are not heavily gendered and this must have an impact on the outdated expectations that we place on the different genders. This made me realise that instead of whinging about the situation I should do something positive and Damsels is the result - in it (in a very silly way) a group of children question all the stereotypes and inconsistencies in fairy-tales and go about righting them, whilst also doing some old fashioned storytelling.

So, I guess the upshot is that I started with an idea..

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?

The Fringe is like nothing else that I have experienced, as an environment it's so exciting, challenging and rewarding that why wouldn't you want to be a part of it? You should hear me down the pub - EdFringe really should employ me the amount I encourage people to get to Edinburgh in August. And if we can pick up some touring dates as well, so much the better.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
I hope, mostly enjoyment. If audiences leave with a big grin on their face, we're doing something right. I'd also like to think that somewhere down the line it might just encourage one or two of the kids to question something they're told about what boys and girls should and shouldn't be doing.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
I must confess that I find the concept of dramaturgy a little bit confusing - everyone seems to have a slightly different definition of what it is and what a dramaturg does, and I do think that it occasionally gets bandied about as a term when people are trying to sound impressive, but are not quite sure what they're talking about.

As a piece of new writing set in the present, the context of Damsels is a very modern one, but it is clearly rooted in (and references) the much older traditions of spoken folk tales. In terms of the script itself, a lot of our constraints are those placed on us by the Fringe and it's worth acknowledging these as external and uncontrollable influences. We are based in an installation venue with a permanant set which has to work for all three of our productions and limited exits and entrances and so the script and action has been written and structured with the practical requirements of the location in mind.

What particular traditions and influences would you acknowledge on your work - have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition?
The stories we use are based on the Grimm collection, but the script sets out to update, adapt and subvert the traditional stories to make them applicable and give meaning to modern audiences, whilst acknowledging their place within a genre. The brothers Grimm might be turning in their graves.

Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process?Once written the script is work-shopped with the cast - in Damsels (as with much children's theatre) the performance needs to be high energy and fast-paced and if phrases are hard to say or interchanges don't flow this lets the pace drop and so the script is adapted and rewritten during the rehearsal process.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
This is a tough question - audiences obviously play a critical role in creating meaning for any performance and if there is isn't an understanding of the genre, style of performance or the references made in it, the meaning created can be different from the intended one. 

In children's theatre, however, the aim is to consciously produce something that is understandable to the age group that it is aimed at and, therefore, contexts and references are reduced to those most likely to be understood and interpreted in the intended way.

5. Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?

I've never thought of younger children's theatre and dramaturgy in this way before as many practices are different to those in adult theatre - themes need to be simplified and the primary emphasis needs to be on entertainment, but it's been a good brain work-out for me - I hope some of my answers are useful

Not Cricket Productions are a young, not-for-profit theatre company who are rapidly gaining a reputation for producing engaging and innovative shows. They aim to provide high quality entertainment with an emphasis on classic texts and tales.

This year will mark the company’s fourth appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe, having previously produced ‘The Reluctant Dragon’, ‘The Wolves of Willoughby Chase’ and ‘The Wind in the Willows’. Not Cricket strive to encourage participation in theatre and engagement with literature, particularly amongst the young and are running outreach opportunities alongside this production.

‘Damsels in Success’ forms part of a programme of three shows that Not Cricket Productions are performing in the same installation venue. ‘The Secret Garden’, a faithful adaptation of the well known book and ‘Waking Beauty’, a non-traditional fairytale for older audiences complete the set.

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